Let's play a game! Let's see how many truly awful people we can name who were born with their Sun in the Eighth House. Maybe I should go first, since I wrote a book on the Sun and the Moon in the Houses (Behind the Horoscope: How the Placement of the Sun and Moon Tells a Story about You). We'll start with some disreputable writers: Lord George Byron, Charles Baudelaire, and the Marquis de Sade.
During the brief period when he was still accepted in London's social circles, Byron was labeled a man who was "dangerous to know." Baudelaire wrote a famous book of poetry titled The Flower of Evil that was considered so perverse that it was banned in his native France and his publisher was jailed. And, of course, everyone knows about the Marquis de Sade and the sexual preference that was named for him. (Oddly enough, the thing that landed Sade in prison was not sex—it was sacrilege.)
What's that you say? Yeah, these guys might have been, shall we say, naughty, but they also managed to produce bodies of literary works that, even if they are not to everyone's taste, were certainly substantial. How about some people with Sun in the Eighth House who created nothing but death and destruction?
We could start with a couple of notable Nazis: Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. Himmler was the head of the notorious S.S. and Heydrich was Himmler's right-hand man and considered one of the prime architects of the "Final Solution." To this dastardly duo we could add some examples from the USA, like serial killers David (Son of Sam) Berkowitz and Jeffery Dahmer and assassin James Earl Ray.
Of course, those are all men. What about women with the Sun in the Eighth? We could consider Gudrun Ensslin, who was a co-founder of the left-wing terrorist group called the Red Army Faction that carried out bombings and murders in Germany during the 1960s, or Charlene Gallego, who helped her husband Gerald perpetrate a series of rapes and murders in California between 1978 and 1980. However, women with the Sun in the Eighth House seem more likely to get into trouble because of sex scandals, like Traci Lords, whose career as a porn star was cut short when authorities learned that she was underage, and Jessica Hahn, the church secretary whose affair with the Rev. Jim Bakker helped bring down that televangelist's empire.
In case you're looking for a loophole, let me add that most of the people I've named have the Sun in the Eighth House in three of the more commonly used house systems: Koch, Placidus, and Equal. All of them have that placement in at least two out of those three.
This might lead you to believe that having the Sun in the Eighth House is a recipe for infamy and, if you were born with the Sun in the Eighth, you're probably already tired of this stupid game. But wait. The fact is that most people with the Sun in the Eighth are not awful, or anywhere near awful. And yet, the Eighth House has always had a somewhat dark reputation. The ancients even compared it to the underworld. Why is that?
The descriptions of the twelve Houses have come down to us from some of the earliest astrological texts. They have been altered slightly over the centuries, but their basic character and purpose have remained the same.
The First House is self, how you want the world to see you. The Second House is money or the practical resources that allow you to make a living. The Third House represents your immediate environment and the way you communicate with the people around you. The Fourth House is about family and the influences of your childhood. The Fifth House is where we create or, sometimes, procreate. The Sixth House is concerned with health and service to others. The Seventh House is partnership and the all-important search for a significant other. The Ninth House is about the higher mind, our principles, ideals, religion, and/or philosophy. The Tenth House represents our career and how we are judged by our peers. The Eleventh House is about the communities we choose to be a part of. The Twelfth House is where we stop and look for something beyond the joys and travails of this world.
I left the Eighth House off this list because, of all the Houses, it seems to be the one for which the meaning has changed the most in recent times. For ancient astrologers, the concerns of the Eighth House were primarily practical. They were things like debts and dowries, lawsuits and inheritance. Inheritance, of course, brings in the concept of death, but it is death as a business transaction, the transfer of goods and property for which the deceased no longer has use. In modern astrology, on the other hand, we tend to associate the Eighth House as much with our psychological state as our investment portfolio. It has become the storehouse for our childhood traumas, our obsessions, our prejudices, and the nameless terrors that haunt our dreams. It's as if your financial advisor suddenly turned into Freddy Krueger and your tax forms were composed by a writing team led by Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
In order to understand how these two readings, ancient and modern, can come together, it is helpful to consider the life of someone with the Sun in the Eight who was not awful. Someone who is, in fact, thought of as the first great American philosopher. Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the most influential thinkers of his day and his ideas about individualism and self-reliance have become an essential part of the American identity. Emerson was also highly regarded for the moral and ethical stands that he took. However, when we look back at the great philosopher's early days, we realize that this was not always the case.
At the age of 27, Emerson married an impressionable 18 year old named Ellen Tucker. Ellen was sickly. She suffered from tuberculosis. She also came from a wealthy family and stood to inherit a substantial fortune. Emerson, on the other hand, was at that time a poorly paid preacher. Previously to meeting Ellen, Emerson had wondered if he would ever marry. A Sun sign Gemini, he complained about the "frigidity" of his nature. However, he seemed to be immediately smitten with this delicate, young heiress.
This was during a time when men were considered to be the masters of their households, and Emerson had no trouble assuming this role. Early in their marriage he insisted that Ellen change her will to make him the sole benefactor. He also took out a life insurance policy on her. Emerson's control over his young bride extended to her health concerns. The recommended treatment for tuberculosis at that time was plenty of fresh air, so Emerson encouraged Ellen to take two rides a day in an open carriage. After one of these rides, taken in sub-zero temperatures in February, Ellen's condition worsened and she died.
Certain members of Ellen Tucker's family smelled a rat. They suspected that Emerson had married Ellen just to get her money. There was a lawsuit and the estate was held up in court for several years. Meanwhile, Emerson's grief for his dead wife was dramatically displayed. He walked to Ellen's crypt every day for over a year. One day, many months after the poor girl had been laid to rest, Emerson actually opened the coffin to look at her remains.
Emerson never explained his reasons for this extraordinary (and rather creepy) action. Could it have been a sense of guilt? Could it have been that, somewhere in his subconscious, the philosopher feared that the things his in-laws were saying about him were true? We don't know. What we do know is that Emerson was brought to a point where he had to literally come face-to-face with death.
Here we have all the elements of the ancient reading of the Eighth House: death, inheritance, and a lawsuit. We also have the deep, psychological issues of the modern reading. Power is often an issue with this sector, and Emerson exerted the power he possessed at that time as a husband over his young wife. We also have the secrets of the subconscious. Consciously, Emerson probably regarded himself as a good husband, but what was his subconscious doing when he sent his tubercular wife out in the cold? What was it doing when he proposed marriage? Could he be sure that it wasn't dollar signs rather than of love that moved his heart?
Of course, there's no outward indication that any of this was true. Emerson's life both before and after his marriage showed no signs of mendacity or greed. He was, by all accounts, a nice guy. But the Eighth House is not about what the world thinks of us. It's about what we think of ourselves. It's about those late night reveries when we see the gooey mess of selfishness and fear that underlie even our apparently selfless acts. It about recognizing the limitations of our goodness and the power of the darkness.
A few years later, the lawsuit was settled in Emerson's favor. Ellen's money allowed Emerson to quit his job as a pastor and pursue his education independent of the doctrine of the church. Emerson used this freedom to study with the greatest minds in Europe and to develop his substantial, Gemini intellect. He transformed himself. But before any of that could happen, the great philosopher had to first lift the lid of a coffin.
When Emerson lifted the lid of that coffin, he wasn't just facing death. He was facing a part of himself. He was facing his guilt, his shortcomings as a husband, and his darkness. This is something that people with the Sun in the Eighth House often have to do. In Behind the Horoscope, I call it their mission. Most don't do it in such a literal way, but it is part of the process that is the essential feature of this sector of the horoscope. That process is called transformation.
Lawsuits and inheritances can certainly transform the exterior part of our lives, but the transformation that is the mission of the Eighth House also has to be internal. It has to work on the deepest levels of your consciousness. It has to upset your emotional balance and challenge your spiritual assumptions. These transformations are rarely easy and they frequently bring forth doubt and regrets that you'd rather not think about. But they can also allow you to break through subconscious barriers and free yourself of useless emotional, psychological, and spiritual baggage.
This brings us back to the "awful" people I mentioned at the beginning of this article. There are occasions when having the Sun (or any significant placement) in the Eighth House can lead a person into some pretty dark places. This is what is necessary for that individual's transformation. Unfortunately, some people get lost in those dark places and in the darkness within themselves. That was certainly the case for some of the examples I mentioned earlier. However, we also have to recognize that transformations don't come easy and that this process takes time. That Eighth House person who might appear lost could still be looking for his or her transformative moment and, one day soon, he or she will open the lid to a "coffin" and find in its contents the means to the fundamental change called for by this House placement.
Becker, Jillian, Hitler's Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott Co., 1977
Houlding, Deborah, The House: Temples of the Sky, Bournemouth, England, Wessex Astrologer Ltd. 2006
de Jorge, Alex, Baudelaire: Prince of Clouds, New York, Paddington Press, 1976
Knopp, Guido (Translated by Angus McGeoch), Hitler's Henchmen, Phoenix Mill, England, 1996
Lever, Maurice, Translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Sade: A Biography, NY, Farrar, 1993
Macleod, Marlee, Gerald & Charlene Gallego, Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/partners/Gallego/Charlene_2html
Maurois, Andre, Byron, New York, Bernard Geis, 1969
McAleer, John, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Days of Encounter, Boston, MA, Little Brown & Co., 1984